The wonderful Lily Kesselman testified at todays New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) annual meeting. Below is her testimony.
Good morning! My name is Lily Kesselman and I’m a resident of the South Bronx.
I come to you to voice concerns from residents in Mott Haven – also known as Asthma Alley. I’m also a student at Farm School studying urban farming and food justice.
According to the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems Robert F Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, Bronx county has one of the highest asthma rates in the United States and rates of death by asthma in the Bronx are 3 TIMES the national average; hospitalization rates are 5 TIMES higher and in some neighborhoods it is estimated that 20% of ALL children have asthma. Within NYC the disparity in asthma hospitalization rates is pronounced – one study shows hospitalization rates in Bronx County and East Harlem are 21 TIMES high than those in affluent parts of the New York.
Bronx County has the highest pediatric asthma hospitalization rates in the New York area. Asthma has been linked to numerous pollutants including carbon monoxide, and a particularly dangerous particulate exhausted exclusively from diesel engines. The South Bronx residents are in a critical situation – we need to REDUCE traffic, congestion and these appalling statistics.
The Harlem River Rail Yard Ventures lease was designed to “Reduce Congestion from Truck Traffic” by completing an intermodal rail system, which they have not. Since the lease took effect, the Harlem River Rail Yard Ventures has not taken one single action to reduce congestion; they continue to sublease land to business that that block public access to the waterfront and bring in thousands of trucks through our streets each day.
And now they want to bring in FreshDirect. This “deal” was never brought up for discussion at Community Board 1. This “deal” is funded by taxpayers. This “deal” is detrimental to The South Bronx. This “deal” is literally killing New Yorkers. This “deal” gives not only taxpayer money in the millions but taxpayer land to corporate entities for private profits.
I was at the State of the Borough with Ruben Diaz Jr., who stated that FreshDirect will purchase 10 electric trucks with a “WISH” to convert all trucks someday with no promises, all funded with public money and no recourse if their “Wish” is not fulfilled. No recourse. None. They can buy whatever trucks they want, pay whatever wages they want and not repay a dime. And the company say they will purchase these trucks fro, Smith Electric, has not even built it’s factory in The South Bronx yet but is another recipient of Tax breaks and incentives from New York Taxpayers.
At the moment current Harlem River Yards tenants rack up 42,000 truck trips per month and the FreshDirect proposal would add 30,000 diesel truck trips and 60,000 vehicle trips through this neighborhood each month. Further, the NYS DOT’s tenant, Harlem River Yards Venture, will not accept the offer from the EDC for an easement that would allow the footbridge to be completed and allow residents to walk to Randall’s Island. Since the Harlem River Yards lease was signed, the areas surrounding the site have been rezoned for residential use and the area has been included in the NYC Comprehensive Waterfront plant – but this, along with The Greenway – can not be completed due to the Harlem River Rail Yards Ventures.
The NYS DOT has committed $10 million dollars in federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funding for the first year offering vouchers of $20,000 per vehicle. How about using funds to create spaces that combat asthma and give all taxpayers and residents access to this public land that belongs to New Yorkers? This land belongs to New York State, meaning residents should have access to this land and should have a voice in how it is used. Why does New York State fund a private company with both public property and public land for the benefit of just a few business owners? And why must South Bronx residents have to suffer the life long physical consequences of asthma to the benefit of Fresh Direct?
And why should Bronx residents be forced to live with an eyesore of a factory built along a scenic waterfront property when every other neighborhoods enjoys city funding to develop these areas as recreation and residential oaisiss?
Also, I am the daughter of a member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians in the Northwest Coast. The Department of Transportation is aware that the land consisting of the Harlem River Land Yards is historically significant containing evidence of a Ranchqua Village and burial ground. The DOT acknowledges that artifacts of the Ranchqua Village may be present beneath the 15 feet of fill that now covers portions of the site. It is unconscionable that the DOT would allow and fund Fresh Directs 500,000 sq ft facility on top of this native American settlement ultimately destroying archaeological evidence of the village and burial ground. This property needs to be protected and studied. These artifacts concern all people and we have the right to explore this land.
We want the NYSDOT review the lease conveniently written by the Harlem River Rail Yards. We want the Harlem River Rail Yards Ventures to be forced to comply with an easement giving residents access and enabling the completion of the walkway. We want The Greenway. We want Fresh Direct out and we want to bring in sustainable business and families – not be forced out of our waterfront property by publicly funded corporations.